I conceived of the idea of ranking the animals used for cooking and food not more than a half a year ago, while discussing the topic with fellow foodies and gourmands at the dinner table. We all kept coming to the conclusion that animals provided humans the most delicious, appetizing, and fulfilling meals. Of course there are noted exceptions such as truffles and the humble potato that could elevate one’s meal from ordinary to divine, but through the gamut of the world’s foods, animals were the most compelling elements of the dish. In particular, I am beginning with meat since the United States, though populating only a 15th of the earth, consumes a third of the world’s meat supply.
Because of these discussions and ruminations, many of which have occurred in subsequent meals or lonely rides on the Metro, I’ve decided to chronicle my observations and ultimately opinions about which animals are worthy of being included in, for sake of simplicity and grandiosity, The Pantheon. I hope one day to make a complete publication of the matter, to write a complete and exhaustive guide to those animals which delight us at the table, along with interesting recipes that follow suit. Until then, I plan to brainstorm the idea through a series of posts here on Food GPS Food Insights.
Before I delve into the Top Ten Animals in ascending order, let me lay out the criteria from which I will be ranking them. Four things: Tastiness, Usefulness, Versatility, and Relevance.
Tastiness. I say this rather ineffectual word to really describe how delicious, palatable, and remarkable the flavor of this animal can reach, by its chemical and biological properties involving muscles, organs, fats, etc that is intrinsic to the animal.
Of course this must be interconnected with the second and third criteria, Usefulness and Versatility, two similar concepts that I will dissect on their own right. Tastiness is supplemented by how useful the animal’s components may be, whether it could easily incorporate additional flavors and how well it pairs with the proverbial pantry’s vast flavors. Versatility involves the variegated tastes from the different parts of the animal as well as its ability to adapt in a large number of contexts.
Finally, Relevance involves this particular creature’s proximity to the human soul, the passion, philosophy and psychology to people. Take for example sheep, or the younger lamb. It’s an animal consumed on nearly every continent in almost every culture, prepared in a myriad versions across history. The same could be said in a narrower scope of chicken, pig, and cow. A squab or ox or frog might produce some singularly appealing dishes, but on the whole they do not convey as much significance to people and cuisines as the aforementioned animals.
I hope to lay a groundwork and foundation for the theory much like Greek philosophy along the way, exploring various subsets and approaches as time and pen (or keyboard) allow, but until then, I will be keen on adding a useful recipe or two with each post for home cooks to work out in their kitchens. I won’t promise a full test each time, but I will be sure to adapt recipes from reputable sources.
Lastly, for this series, I will qualify my selections to this Pantheon as “Animals” meaning primarily land-roving creatures. I do plan to branch out into other various categories of foods, such as Vegetables, Seafood, Mushrooms (or Fungi proper), Beverages, and Wine. Don’t expect to see tuna, lobster, or turbot for that matter on this list. It’s my sincerest hope that you enjoy these posts and see it as an opportunity for discussion and debate. Remember that each of these choices are of my own opinion; each of you is entitled to your own, so I do hope you would express them in comments below. I will continue to research my findings with the aid of a few iconic resources, “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, “Larousse Gastronimique” edited by Joel Robuchon, and “The Artful Eater” by Edward Behr. I find that these three books in particular address the culinary context for these animals with clarity and breadth. In two weeks, I will begin to list my Top Ten.